Health systems are more frequently going the do-it-yourself route and posting both good and bad physician and hospital ratings on their websites.
It's a means of boosting transparency and a way to guide consumer decisions about care. But it also diverts attention from consumer review websites such as Yelp and Angie's List.
Advocates say the effort also addresses a new wave of consumerism and reflects increased industry efforts to communicate in more meaningful ways with patients.
Until recently, physicians and practices have largely ignored their online image, said Dr. Halee Fischer-Wright, CEO of the Medical Group Management Association.
“But many are recognizing that the way the medical community reaches out to patients has to be different,” she said.
For example, Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, Calif., piloted a program to send medical students to the homes of high-risk heart-failure patients after they're released from the hospital to help them with following post-discharge recommendations.
And Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina launched an online site that allows the public to see how much it pays particular providers for certain services.
And more frequently hospitals are hiring chief patient experience officers to survey what frustrates patients, like complaints about doctors or long wait times. They involve patients on hospital committees to get their input.
Embracing, managing and honing online reputations is part of that broader effort to connect with patients. It's "becoming a crucial part of running a medical practice," Fischer-Wright said.
In August, both North Shore-LIJ Medical Group and the UPMC system joined the trend of posting physician ratings, good and bad, on their websites.
Patients searching for physicians on their websites will find one- to five-star ratings above the physician's name. Those ratings are based on CMS' patient experience data, which includes measures of physician friendliness and their clarity in explaining treatments, medications and follow-up instructions.
“We want to reinforce to our patients that we hear you, and we take your feedback seriously,” said Tami Minnier, chief quality officer at UPMC, the largest hospital operator in Western Pennsylvania.
“By being transparent ... we are providing our patients with validated information that helps them choose the physicians that best meets their needs,” said Dr. Ira Nash, a cardiologist and senior vice president of the North Shore-LIJ Medical Group.
In 2012, the University of Utah Health Care system became one of the first health systems to publicly post data from patient satisfaction surveys. More than 50,000 patients responded in the first year, the system said. The survey includes patients' comments, of which 99% of are posted, unedited, online, the system said. Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., followed suit in 2014 and Cleveland Clinic did as well this past June.
Government agencies, news organizations, and accreditation and quality groups have all offered ratings for consumers in recent years. Last month, Yelp, best known for consumer reviews of restaurants and other service-oriented businesses, announced they were partnering with the not-for-profit investigative journalism organization ProPublica to gauge patient satisfaction.
Despite ongoing concerns about the quality of measurements and the ratings maze caused by the flood of information, the demand for providers to be transparent is expected to continue.
For certain specialties and conditions there is still no good way of evaluating performance in a consumer-friendly way, so more metrics are coming, said National Quality Forum CEO Dr. Christine Cassel.
"It is a very complex environment,” she said in a recent Q&A in Modern Healthcare. “There is a sort of a crowd-sourcing going on as people experiment with and use different measures for different purposes,” she said.
However, even if perfect quality metrics did exist, MGMA's Fischer-Wright said that does not mean physicians should think that just delivering high-quality care is going to be enough in the competitive consumer marketplace.
Just being smart and a good doctor doesn't automatically translate to a great online reputation. Patients expect a high level of customer service, whether it's clinician availability, parking or even décor, she said.
“The online reputation is going to become the yardstick by which that customer service is going to be measured. And physicians are woefully unprepared to meaningfully engage in that new world,” Fischer-Wright added.